Systemic Inflammation, Pain and Degenerative Disease: Part I
By Dr. Greg Fors, DC, DIBCN
Board Certified Neurologist
The inflammatory response serves to protect, defend, and repair our
tissues. It begins by preparing damaged tissues for repair and
initiating the healing process. Therefore, if your patients are taking
drugs to inhibit the inflammatory healing response, such as NSAIDs and
other anti-inflammatory drugs, they are actually inhibiting the healing
process. If the inflammatory healing response of the musculoskeletal
system goes beyond the usual six weeks, and causes recurrent pain for
over three months, your patient has developed a chronic myofascial pain
syndrome. With this, the normal acute inflammatory healing response has
now become an abnormal chronic inflammatory disorder; a metabolic
disorder that must be managed through proper dietary and nutraceutical
Chronic inflammation can smolder in the tissues of the body for many years without causing any obvious disease. The epidemic of chronic degenerative diseases, as well as the explosion of allergic and autoimmune disorders in your patients is related to their development of chronic “silent” inflammation. People are more than two times as likely to have a heart attack when they experience higher levels of chronic inflammation. One blood test that is highly predictive and helpful in monitoring chronic inflammation is high sensitivity C-reactive protein or hsCRP.
The presence of refined sugars, high fructose corn syrup, saturated fat, trans-fatty acids in our diet, along with our sedentary lifestyles are the primary factors in the cause of this chronic inflammation. Another major factor is that our diets are deficient in anti-oxidants, micronutrients, and fiber. Research has established that the Standard American Diet (SAD), high in sugar and saturated fats, is inherently pro-inflammatory and associated with the high incidence of chronic muscle and joint pain disorders, which are epidemic in our modern life.
An excellent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2002 found that diets with a high amount of sugar and simple carbohydrates actually raised hsCRP, that all-important marker of chronic “silent” inflammation. This means that our sweet tooth is causing us a great deal of chronic pain and degenerative disease. In the United States, our consumption of sugar now averages more than an unbelievable 154 pounds per person per year. Between 1970 and 1990, the consumption of high fructose corn syrup increased more than 1000% in the United States, from one half pound to over 72 pounds per person. This consumption of high fructose corn syrup comes primarily through soft drinks and processed foods, not through the family sugar bowl.
Another pro-inflammatory constituent of our SAD diet is the presence of trans-fatty acids. These types of fatty acids, not generally found in nature, have been added to the food chain through man's manipulation. Trans-fatty acids are created when vegetable oils are hydrogenated to make them more solid, in order to resemble saturated animal fat and reduce rancidity. Trans-fatty acids are common in snack foods, commercial baked goods, deep fried foods, fast foods, margarine and vegetable shortening to name just a few. Consumption of these trans-fatty acids has been shown in research to raise important indicators of chronic “silent” inflammation. More importantly, the elimination of trans-fatty acids from the diet can help lower chronic inflammation, thereby potentially lessening your patients’ chronic musculoskeletal pain.
If the threat of “silent” inflammation causing chronic muscle and joint pain is not enough to make your patients stop eating trans-fatty acids, perhaps a heart attack is. Research has established that trans-fatty acids significantly raise your “bad” cholesterol (LDL-C) and lower your “good” cholesterol (HDL-C) twice as much as saturated fat. Not only that, trans-fatty acids in the diet raise plasma lipoprotein(a), one of the most deadly fatty acids when it comes to heart attacks. Additionally, trans-fatty acids have been shown to increase the risk of colon and breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and the fast-growing rate of allergies in children.
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